2013 arrives with booms and bangs and for once the country does not shudder and shake in their midst. These are fireworks, not bombs – and we have to curl our fingers inwards and press our fists tight against our ears to stop the end of this trail of thought, though the words manage to escape anyway – for once.
2012 at 11:59pm was a myriad of things. Firecrackers and happy New Year messages (that came too late in Karachi, because networks were blo – no, don’t think negative things because 2013willbewonderfulyou’llsee!). It was calling up relatives abroad and complaining about time zones and it was 102 Facebook notifications. It was optimism that was brown and angry like any old bruise and hurt just as bad. It was newscasters wishing the country good luck. Politicians smiling on camera. Media anchors telling the nation how wonderful everything is going to be. And all other oxymorons.
The first Friday of the New Year is an unexpected holiday. The second one is too. By the third one, disappointment and hurt are cloaks that Pakistanis wrap around themselves to brave the January cold. So that it doesn’t sting when the numbers of the dead are announced.
Hope is stupid in January of 2013 in Pakistan, and almost everyone doubts at that point that there was once enough of it to warrant fireworks in the dead of the night.
Tahir-ul-Qadri brings with him the wisp of an emotion that is too bitter and too sad to be called buoyancy. It tastes like lead in the corner of everyone’s mouth and even those who follow him to the edge of the earth aren’t bursting with patriotism. It has only been half-a-month, and the driving force behind the country has changed. This time, it is anger (hot, sizzling, and ready to claw eyes out) and grief (real, raw, ripping and tearing) that compels hundreds of people to walk from Lahore. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, everyone knows. It has been literally twelve days since we lay spine-to-spine on our rooftops, on the streets and on our terraces, watching the display of colors shoot across the sky and knowing – knowing, God damn it! Knowing! – that this year would be different. That it would hurt less. Instead, there is blood on the dust that rises beneath the feet of those who walk to Islamabad. Pieces of broken hearts clink together unnaturally in the abyss. And they keep marching on. And on.
Optimism is stupid in the January of 2013 in Pakistan. It has rusted away like everything else does when left unprotected in the sweltering heat of the Sun. With layers of metal changing color and corroding away, something ugly is left in place of something beautiful.
is not in
The Kirani Road blast stings in a different way. This time, there are bodies on the ground, bloodied sheets and something else – a refusal to bury.
This is new. Everything in Pakistan gets buried. The dead under piles of earth, good news under GEO Headlines, dreams under violence, Karachi under indifference and hatchets under political agendas.
One does not simply refuse to bury. It’s not how things work. Pakistan knows rotting bodies and uncontained bitterness are wholly unnecessary drama. Too many things die every day. They never refuse to bury because this land is not expansive to contain their many griefs.
Quetta disagrees, apparently, and it is when images of corpses lined like dominos fill television screens that the echo of 11:59 pm is completely washed away. In the midst of so much death, there are no more elaborate speeches, no grandiose plans and no Facebook statuses talking of prosperity.
The roar is gone in February of 2013 in Pakistan, and it leaves behind a scared little whisper that does not wish for better days. The new wish it is that things – please please please – just not get worse. The nation that once boasted of having seen everything, has witnessed two unimaginable months. No one glorifies suffering in Pakistan anymore.
Victoria Nuland uses big words like “Iran Sanctions Act”, “triggered”, “large-scale energy projects” when the US disapproves of the Pakistan-Iran Gas Pipeline. The State Department assures everyone that Pakistan and the US are on the same side.
In Karachi, attendees of the Literature Festival mistake a gas cylinder exploding for a bomb. There are so many off-days now that students have to stop and wonder if they actually go to school any more. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhoa, a bomb blast kills around thirteen soldiers.
Nuland mispronounces “Pakistan”. Her accent butchers up the word so much, no one in Pakistan actually knows the country she’s talking about.
By February, the government is scrambling to get back in good graces. The United States disapproval of the gas pipeline is ignored. The subsequent sanction threats thud dully against wearied public ears. By now, no-one really cares what the higher-ups do. The emotion on the ground – fear of leaving houses for work and never coming back, the frenzy attached to the arrival of elections, etc, etc. – is too large to allow for any contemplation on what the United States approves of and what it doesn’t.
but in us
Perveen Rehman is gunned down in Karachi, because this is a city hell-bent on extinguishing all lights. Some computer experts come up with the online halaat-o-meter. Pakistan loses their Test series against South Africa, but wins the T20 series (because rain is kind) and manages to lose 2 matches in their ODI series.
Also, PPP makes history when they complete their five-year tenure, and become the first elected government to do so in 66 years.
“No-one will be able to harm democracy in future,” Raja Pervez Ashraf says. The country crumbling beneath debt, death and debris does not answer him. There are kinds of pain, this nation learns, that cannot be expressed in words. Even Urdu – beautiful, brave Urdu – has shortcomings.
that we are underlings.
As the world spins on its axis, Pakistan is tilted but still very much in existence. When the assemblies are dismissed, no-one pauses for even a millisecond to take a deeper breath.
In Pakistan, we are in pain. Those who have lost loved ones are enfolded in the trembling arms of those who are scared of that very fate. Governments come and go, peace is never found in their midst. There are threats of sanctions. There is joblessness and poverty. In Pakistan, we have lost too many cricket matches and the PCB is too inadequate. In Pakistan, there is too much syllabus left to cover and too many (un)predicted holidays to come. In Pakistan, O’level students know that the CIE will not cancel examinations, even if there are bullets streaming outside.
In Pakistan, hope teases and coaxes heart strings till they dance to the tune of Insha-Allah Pakistan, because there is a beautiful melody in compromise and sometimes Junoon is vital. There are dhol-walay in weddings and dance rehearsals go on for weeks. The Orangi Town Project does not stop after Perveen Rehman dies. In Pakistan, we cheer when the green shirts manage to nab the Test Series, and the PCB knows how to put together a team. Teachers reassure their students, and schools are open on Saturdays. Quetta does not stop and neither does Karachi. In Pakistan, LUMS extends the deadline for its essay competition and life goes on.
In Pakistan, beneath the unforgiving March sun, we are happy even when we aren’t.